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Will Christian Education in Israel Vanish?

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There are 8.3 million citizens in Israel: 6.6 million are Jews and 1.7 million are Arabs. More than 20 percent of the citizens of Israel are Palestinian Israeli Arabs.

Admittedly, the state of Israel has provided some state-run schools for its Arab citizens and has made sure that these schools emphasize Jewish history and culture, avoiding highlighting Palestinian history or point of view.

However, they have not met the educational needs of their 1.7 million Arab citizens.

In fact, this group has been treated as second-class citizens for decades. For example, there is not even one single high school in the Negev, an area that holds 170,000 Arab Israeli citizens, as demonstrated by a 2011 report on the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel.

On the other hand, even before the foundation of the state of Israel, many Arab church schools have been striving to meet the educational needs of Palestinians in Israel.

Despite their financial limitations, today there are 47 church schools in Arab towns and villages and in a few mixed cities.

These schools educate more than 30,000 Christian and Muslim Palestinian Israeli Arabs and employ more than 3,000 teachers.

They are considered some of the best schools in the country and their students have some of the highest scores in the national exam that qualify students for universities.

Yarden Skop, in an article in Haaretz newspaper, points out that 12 Arab church schools are leading schools in the whole country; their grades are above the national average.

He adds that 95 percent of the graduates of these leading schools are eligible for matriculation into universities, which is higher than the best Jewish schools.

It is common to point out that when taking into account the data throughout the years, Palestinian Arab Christians in Israel fared the best in terms of education in comparison to any other group receiving an education in Israel.

Odeh Bisharat points out that more than 30 percent of Israel’s Arab members of Knesset are graduates of Arab Christian schools.

Despite their great accomplishments, they have not received equitable funding from the Israeli ministries of education and finance.

The Jewish religious schools receive 90 to100 percent of their budgets for teaching hours compared to a maximum of 75 percent for Arab church schools. Some Arab church schools receive less than 35 percent of their budgets.

A few years ago, the education ministry started serious and painful cuts in the funding for Arab church schools and in the last year the ministry of education has also imposed a ceiling on tuition fees for the schools.

These escalating deductions and new regulations put enormous financial pressures on Arab church schools.

Consequently, the pertinent schools started a process of negotiation with the ministry of education hoping to challenge and change the latest oppressive measures.

Unfortunately, the negotiation process has not given the expected fruits.

Many leaders started demonstrating and pursuing other legal ways to address the pertinent discrimination.

Some are urging different religious and political leaders to put more pressures on the Israeli government.

In summary, Arab church schools can choose to continue as “unrecognized official” schools and receive dwindling financial support, they can become private schools fully responsible for all of their expenses, or they can give in to the ministry of education and become state schools that receive 100 percent funding.

The first and second options will put unrealistic financial burdens on parents as well as on Arab church schools.

The last option is financially attractive but it seems to mean giving up their unique characteristics as Christians as well as Palestinian Israelis.

It means that they submit to the pressure of Israelization and a vision of a Jewish State in which Palestinian Christians are marginalized.

Arab church schools might choose to face this pressure with counter pressure that allows them to continue their ministry, or they might choose to find a compromise between the state of Israel and its Palestinian Christian citizens.

No doubt whatever the future unfolds, it is part of our responsibility to stand with justice and to seek a future that is full of equality and peace for all the citizens of Israel.

Such a vision of justice and equality will make it more possible for Christian Arab schools to continue their ministry.

Yohanna Katanacho is a full professor of biblical studies and academic dean at Nazareth Evangelical College in Israel. He is a Palestinian Israeli Evangelical Baptist who has authored 10 books in English and Arabic, including “The Land of Christ: A Palestinian Cry.” You can follow him on Twitter @ykatanacho.

Editor’s note: Video interviews with Katanacho at the Baptist World Alliance’s 2015 World Congress in Durban, South Africa, in July 2015 are available here.